Design Exploring the

Exploring the
Elements & Principles
Elements of Design
A design is a visual plan you can use to create your 4-H project. Everything you can see has a design. When
you describe something you see, you use words that tell about the lines, shapes, colors, textures, and spaces.
Line, shape, color, texture, and space are the basic elements of design.
The elements of design are important to everyone
who works in textiles and clothing, home interiors,
woodworking, photography, landscaping, architecture, foods, and the visual arts. If you understand
the design elements, you will be more successful
with your 4-H projects.
Lines can be horizontal, vertical, dotted, zig-zag,
curved, straight, diagonal, bold, or fine. Lines
can show direction, lead the eye, outline an
object, divide a space, and communicate a feeling
or emotion. Shape
Shapes are made by connecting lines. Circle, square,
triangle, and freeform are words used to identify shapes.
Look at the objects around you and describe their basic shapes.
Are they one shape, or are they a combination of many shapes? After doing
this several times, you will begin to understand what shape really is. Line creates
two dimensional or flat shapes. When shapes are three dimensional, we call them
forms. A circle is a shape; a ball is a form. A square is a shape; a cube is a form.
A drawing is a flat shape; a sculpture is a three-dimensional form.
4-H 634 March 2000
Color is described with the words hue, value, and
intensity. Hue refers to the name of the color—red
or blue, for example. Value tells the lightness or
darkness of a hue. Intensity refers to the brightness
or dullness of a hue. You can use a color wheel and
learn how colors work together in the publication,
4H-633, Color.
Space refers to the area that a shape or form occupies.
It also refers to the background against which we see
the shape or form. Space can be defined as positive
and negative. The positive space of a design is the
filled space in the design—often it is the shapes that
make up the design. Negative space is the background. The negative space in design is as important
as the positive area.
Texture is the surface quality of an item. It’s how
something feels when touched, or looks like it would
feel if touched. Sandpaper is rough. Velvet is smooth.
A drawing of a tree stump could show rough outer
bark and a smooth inner surface. Search for ways to
add texture to your projects. Texture adds variety
and interest.
Principles of Design
Some combinations of design elements (line, shape, color, texture, and space) work better than others. Here are
some guidelines to help you understand why some combinations work and others do not work as well. These
guidelines—rhythm, proportion, emphasis, balance, and unity—are the principles of design.
You have felt rhythm in music. Rhythm is also a part
of things you see. It allows the eye to move from one
part of a design to another part.
Rhythm can be created by:
• Repeating a color, shape, texture, line, or space
when designing.
• Varying the size of objects, shapes, or lines in sequence (small to large).
• Using a progression of colors from tints to shades
(light blue to dark blue).
• Shifting from one hue to a neighboring hue (yellow
to yellow-orange to orange to red-orange to red).
Proportion refers to the relationship between one
part of a design and another part or to the whole
design. It is a comparison of sizes, shapes, and
quantities. For example, the relationship between
the vertical and horizontal measurements of a
wall hanging may be pleasing because the unequal
lengths produce an interesting contrast.
Every design needs
an accent—a point of
interest. Emphasis is the
quality that draws your
attention to a certain part
of a design first. There
are several ways to
create emphasis:
• Use a contrasting color.
• Use a different or unusual line.
• Make a shape very large or very small.
• Use a different shape.
• Use plain background space.
Balance gives a feeling of stability.
There are three types of balance.
Symmetrical, or formal balance,
is the simplest kind. An item
that is symmetrically
balanced is the same on
both sides. Our bodies
are an example of formal
balance. If you draw an
imaginary line from your
head to your toes dividing
your body in half, you will
be pretty much the same
on both sides.
Designs that have a radial
balance have a center point.
A tire, pizza, and a daisy
flower are all examples of
design with radial balance.
When you look through a
kaleidoscope, everything you
see has a radial balance.
Asymmetrical balance
creates a feeling of
equal weight on both
sides, even though the
sides do not look the
same. Asymmetrical
designs also are called
informal designs
because they suggest
movement and spontaneity. Asymmetrical balance
is the hardest type of balance to achieve and often
takes experimenting or moving elements around
until balance is achieved.
When things look right together, you have created
unity or harmony. Lines and shapes that repeat each
other show unity (curved lines with curved shapes).
Colors that have a common hue are harmonious.
Textures that have a similar feel add to unity. But
too much uniformity sometimes can be boring. At
the same time, too much variety destroys unity.
Honesty of Design
Honesty of design refers to three specific areas—
media, form, and function.
You are being honest with a medium when you are
familiar with that medium, use it to its best advantage, and avoid making it look like something else.
Clay should not be glazed to look like wood, and
wood should not be painted to look like clay bricks.
Honesty related to form and function means that
parts of a design should work in ways they were
intended. Doors on woodworking projects should
not be fake; they should open. A flower pot should
be designed to complement the flowers and not
draw more attention to the pot.
Ideas and Inspirations
Where do you get your ideas? Just as you do not copy from the encyclopedia when you write a term paper
or from another person’s paper when you take a test, you should never copy another person’s design. You are
what makes your designs special! Inspiration or sources for designs may come from poetry, music, nature,
and your own photographs and sketches. Let these inspirations be springboards for your imagination.
Evaluating Design
Evaluating your designs and those of others can help you improve your understanding about design.
You can get help in evaluating your work from many
people, among them your parents, other 4-H’ers,
leaders, teachers, and fair judges. There is seldom
only one way to improve a design, so don’t be
surprised if different people have different ideas on
how you might change your work. In the end, the
decision is yours. Becoming a good designer takes
practice. The more you talk about and play with the
elements and principles of design, the easier it will
be to use them effectively.
Here are some questions to ask yourself about your
1. Where did you get the idea for your design?
2. Describe one of the design elements. How did you
use it?
3. What do you like about the way your design looks?
4. What might you change another time?
5. Is your design honest in media, form, and function?
Additional Resources
These additional resources are available from your
ISU Extension county office:
Color, 4H 633
Selecting Quality Crafts, PM 962
Written by JaneAnn Stout, former ISU Extension art and design
specialist. Edited by Carol Ouverson, communication specialist.
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